The Washington Nationals never need much reason to draft promising young pitchers, a practice that has become their annual tradition. But Nationals evaluators, led by assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline, see this year’s MLB draft pool as particularly pitching heavy. A haul like the one they drafted Tuesday was inevitable.
The Nationals spent five of the eight picks they made Tuesday on college pitchers, giving them seven pitchers in 10 total picks of the 2018 draft so far. Rounds 11-40 will take place Wednesday, at which point the Nationals seem likely to do more of the same. Big-bodied pitchers with good stuff can hone command, they always say. If a kid has been hurt and falls to them, all the better. They have succeeded in rehabbing them before. And as for top college pitchers, Kline explained, top-tier high school pitchers become un-signable in the later rounds, often preferring to go to college and increase their draft stock. The Nationals make signing top picks a priority, so they err on the side of caution.
After taking two pitchers that fell because injury trouble on the first day of the draft Monday, high school right-hander Mason Denaburg and University of Connecticut left-hander Tim Cate, the Nationals continued the trend Tuesday. They used their third-round pick on Vanderbilt right-hander Reid Schaller, who red-shirted his first season because of Tommy John surgery. He has made 19 appearances for the Commodores, two of them starts, and pitched to a 4.05 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning. Reports suggest his fastball sits in the high 90s, which fits the Nationals’ preferred mold, and Kline said they think they found a steal in him.
“He didn’t close for them, he didn’t start for them, but he worked in the middle innings. When he came in, he was 96-98 [mph] with a hard, hard slider,” area scout Jeff Zona said. “Sometimes pitchers like that, they’re hoping to maybe come back the next year and establish a Friday night or Saturday night [starting role]. We just felt it was time to jump him and take him now and get him into our system. We were fortunate to get him.”
They used their fourth-round pick on another college pitcher from a top program, selecting Oklahoma starter Jake Irvin 131st overall. Irvin was the Sooners’ Friday night starter, went 6-2 and struck out 109 batters in 95 innings, which leads the Big 12. He’s 6-foot-6 with a big fastball, the kind of guy that gets veteran scouts excited. Their sixth-round pick became Florida State right-hander Andrew Karp, who started 15 games and pitched to a 3.97 ERA for the Seminoles.
Another Vanderbilt product joined the Nationals in the seventh round, when they drafted tall right-hander Chandler Day. Day, like Schaller, did not crack the Commodores’ rotation, but he served as their closer. He made 18 appearances and has pitched to a 3.22 ERA this year, also striking out more than a batter per inning. The Nationals see him as a starter.
“We took a shot on him in the seventh round,” Zona said. “Vandy is a great program, high competition. They’re going to end up going maybe close to the [College] World Series, so when you get two guys out of that program, off that staff, you’ve done good.”
Lamar University right-hander Tanner Driskill became the Nationals’ final pitching pick of the day. Driskill’s father, Travis, pitched in 57 major league games with the Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros.
The Nationals peppered three position players among the pitchers they drafted Tuesday, beginning in the fifth round with Gage Canning, a center fielder out of Arizona State. Canning led the Pacific-12 Conference in hits as a senior and is fourth with a .369 average. He also leads the league with 11 triples, and no one else has hit more than seven.
“Gage is going to play in the big leagues,” Kline said. “For me, he’s your classic overachiever, plays like his hair is on fire, running around Adam Eaton-type guy. He can really run.”
They chose University of Iowa catcher Tyler Cropley in the seventh round, an important pick given the Nationals’ relative dearth of catchers in the minor league system. Cropley is 10th in the Big Ten in batting average and seventh in slugging percentage, a fourth-year senior who spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College before joining the Hawkeyes.
“He’s a really athletic catcher. He played a lot of different positions, but he’s improving behind the plate,” said special assistant to the GM Terry Wetzel, a former Kansas City Royals scouting director. “He’s got all the skills and the ability to be a quality catcher.”
The Nationals used their final pick of the day on Carson Shaddy, another senior (seniors are generally easier to sign than anyone else) who played second base for the University of Arkansas. Shaddy finished 12th in the Southeastern Conference in on-base percentage (.430). After he went undrafted in the 2017 draft, Shaddy tweeted a message to Razorbacks fans thanking them for their support, indicating that he had every intention of going pro when he was eligible as a junior. A year later, the Nationals made him a 10th-round pick.
“He’s just a kid that can really swing the bat,” Kline said. “We’re not sure exactly where he’s going to play, but if he hits like we think he’s going to hit, we’ll find a spot for him. Good-looking hitter.”
The Nationals will target more high-velocity, high-upside pitchers on the third day of the draft, a rapid-fire affair that includes 30 rounds Wednesday.